Millennium Post

What makes Modi irresistible

The success in the Gujarat elections for Narendra Modi has kicked off a largely expected and a well planned campaign to make him the BJP – starved of leadership as it is – mascot in the fast approaching general elections of 2014. In fact, earlier this year some of the people-about-town in New Delhi, who tell tales, had told this writer that the RSS had asked the BJP’s national brass to wait for the verdict of the Gujarat election, before the leadership issue within the party is resolved in time to put up a strong challenge to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance.

Now that Modi has emerged untrammeled in Gujarat, his image is being air-brushed, varnished and being given a Teflon coating so that no amount of abuse can stick to him, till he marches ahead to New Delhi. Big industrialists like Ratan Tata, the Ambani brothers and others alike are all being called to account for Modi as the prime minister campaign.

The poll results clearly show that Modi is preferred by the urban middle class of Gujarat. A significant segment of a society in a developing country like India, the urban, voluble middle class who once thought that Manmohan Singh was to provide deliverance to them would now happily shift its allegiance to the new messiah, Modi, given that Singh’s sheen has worn off.

On the other hand, an early sign of the times to come for Modi to be less reviled for his role in the 2002 pogrom against the Muslims in the state was available from the meeting of the British High Commissioner to India, Sir James Bevan with the Gujarat chief minister.

It could have been perfectly possible that Nancy Powell, the US ambassador would have followed suite had it not been for the fact that the Obama Administration planning a quiet exit from Afghanistan in 2014. Though the travel ban for Modi to the USA remains in place still, one can easily wonder how long it will survive on the face of Modi’s ‘success.’

So what is this Modi ‘magic’ that is making it difficult for the world to throw him in the dustbin of history. It is a set of coiffed and manicured statistics about Gujarat’s ‘growth’ and ‘development’ that is at the base of the myth-making around Modi. It is, after all, undeniable that the Modi brand has notched up solitary successes as he remained the only face of the BJP campaign in the state. But what are these economic performance standards that are making him so irresistible for earning the affection of the upper classes? The first indicator was what was considered ‘fundamental’ – economic growth in Gujarat. According to economic studies, between the period 1995-2000, the growth rate of Gujarat state domestic product (SDP) was 8.06 per cent, between 2001-2010 the state’s average annual rate of growth was 8.68 per cent. When those figures are decomposed further, it is found that between 2001 and 2004, the SDP rose by 3.95 per cent, while in the period 2005-2009, it rose by an annual average of 12.65 per cent.

A logic is being carefully spun that since hinterlands of Gujarat are essentially water deficient, agriculture is not the mainstay of the economy. So, consequently Gujarat has to have an upsurge in industry and commerce. Narendra Modi packaged this need into a kind of fait accompli, upon which he rested his visage as the man only who could bring this industrial transformation. The continuous parade of big industrialists in Ahmedabad only added grist to the mill. But all these are political points, let us stick to the statistics. Because it is those numbers that unmask the man.

National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) in its 2010 edition of Human Development in India: Challenges for a Society in Transition, total number of days when an urban male had work were 282 days and 163 days for urban females. These figures drop to 210 and 119 in rural areas. When compared to Maharashtra that has similarities with Gujarat in terms of economic development, the corresponding figures are 302 and 221 in urban areas, and 235 and 190 in rural areas.

Then there is the wide differential between rural and urban income. While the median household income in Gujarat’s rural areas is Rs 21,000, the corresponding figure in urban areas is Rs 56,500.  The per capita figures are starker. In rural Gujarat, the per capita income is Rs 4,494 and in urban areas it is, Rs 12,240, almost three times more. Quite revealing, is the figure of government benefits reaching down to the poor rural areas. The mean amount for the poorer rural areas is Rs 204 per capita and in richer urban areas, it is Rs 203. That itself tells the story of the Modi raj, who had to be reminded once by then Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee about maintaining raj dharma.

Pinaki Bhattacharya is a senior journalist
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